The Nation: This is unprecedented
Notwithstanding whoever could be backing Dr Tahirul Qadri, his long march, indeed, has served as the real catalyst for ‘change’. Instead of questioning his credentials, the politicians should thank him for waking them up from a deep slumber.
This clearly reveals that Dr Qadri is not a foreign agent, but a true Pakistani who led a cross-section of the country’s middle and lower middle class to an unprecedented show of resilience and discipline. There is no one in the country who would disagree with his basic demands - that is, electoral reforms by an independent Election Commission and free and fair elections.
Dr Qadri has also proved himself to be a great tactician by first launching and systematically building up the campaign, then forcing the Punjab and federal governments into allowing him a free passage, and finally managing to hold a peaceful rally at the promised venue - Islamabad.
Little did the politicians realise that the good Doctor had achieved far more than just forcing the federal government to commit to holding inclusive and credible elections; he had sent out a loud and clear message - locally and internationally - that Pakistan is a peace-loving and disciplined state, and if given a clean, trustworthy and inspiring leadership, its people can play a crucial role in conflict prevention and peace building worldwide.
No one ever bothered about whether the number of participants in Dr Qadri’s dharna was 40,000 or 4,000,000. What mattered most was the awe-inspiring spectacle of enthusiasm and resolution unrivalled by a diversified collection of men, women and children of all ages coming from all over the country - many of whom were not even members of Pakistan Awami Tehrik or Minhaj-ul-Quran.
They braved the biting cold and rain for three days and three nights. Despite this, their spirits were high and they remained determined to stay in Islamabad. No one pounced on the food that was distributed among the participants, as it is often seen in political gatherings. They took their piece of bread, grams and a date when offered and never complained; they did not utter a word against their leader, who in sharp contrast was protected from the cold weather in his warm container, just because they knew that he had to be protected if their dreams were to materialise.
So, keeping in view the five-year performance of the democratically-elected government, during which several amendments were made in the constitution to suit the needs of the corrupt, uneducated and tax-evading politicians, Dr Qadri has rightly demanded the implementation of constitutional provisions such as Article 62 and 63 in letter and in spirit, which bars defaulters from contesting elections.
Little did the ruling elite realise that on January 17, virtually the entire political opposition - worried at Dr Qadri’s popular uprising - joined against him; yet unwittingly supporting his basic demands while apprehending a conspiracy to derail democracy and in the process serving the government’s objectives.
One may ask: what brand of democracy these politicians were seeking to protect when they had themselves been highly critical of the government’s performance and their NRO brand of rapprochement and accommodation? Do they want to keep the status quo, which is aimed at another innings of unaccounted loot and plunder?
While one might have appreciated the solidarity expressed by the opposition parties, apparently trying to keep the unseen threat of martial law at bay, it is President Asif Zardari who once again took the cake in manoeuvring the opposition - that had not only been gunning for each other’s throats, but also the ruling elite - to fall into his lap by declaring to save the system; a system that has brought nothing but misery and despondency to the masses.
Then the only exception was Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf (PTI), which distanced itself from the lot and also stayed away from Dr Qadri’s march, while agreeing, in principle, with most of his demands and observations. Perhaps, he either found himself too late to rally or wanted to avoid being labelled along with the Allama as someone’s mouthpiece. It is good, however, that PTI’s top leadership and Dr Qadri have met to discuss issues concerning electoral reforms and reconstitution of Election Commission; hopefully, this will lead to more positive outcomes.
As a final word, hats off to those who participated in the peaceful long march and demonstrated to the world that they are second to none in maintaining discipline. And that given a fertile and level playing field and an inspiring political leadership, they would be able to stand on their feet again.
The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org